Sioux Tempestt cuts and pastes the city of Perth


In the newly minted Museum of Perth, WA artist Sioux Tempestt reinterprets Perth’s architectural history, its grime and gleam, truth and invention, for her new exhibition Chronicle.

Working across photography, digital media and printmaking, Chronicle presents Perth’s architecture as a key to its lived histories and shared memory. At the centre of the exhibition is a series of large-scale photographic constructions each presenting a bright patchwork of buildings, of whose “pointed arches, vaults, spires, stained glass windows and gables” Tempestt is a devoted admirer.

These constructions translate the brick-and-render palette of Perth’s most beloved and underappreciated buildings into Technicolor, their brightness dialled up to 10.

Facades, clock towers and antique signage form rhythmic patterns, or are stacked into unlikely mega structures. Colour and geometry are paramount: Through the use of mirroring, I am reconstructing the built form as an object of desire and perfection,” explains Tempestt. “Composition and negative space also play a major part.”

Sioux Tempestt, Colour Me Perth, 2016.

Tempestt’s constructions capture Perth’s edifices in various states of repair. “I often choose squalid buildings,” she says, “as they are still enchanting in their current form, but would be grandiose if restored.” Indeed, the dust, rust, patination and repair of a building can reveal how well it has survived disasters, changes in taste or economy, or even how well it has been cared for.

While Chronicle is an exercise in distilling something essential from Perth’s eclectic buildings, it simultaneously celebrates impetuous variety. “It is the sheer level of detail in not only the built form but also the craftsmanship behind these old buildings which I find so inspiring,” Tempestt says. Chronicle is nestled right among this history in the CBD. Nearby, one can behold the clean ivory rendering of the newly restored Treasury Building, a grand old dame whose belly now throbs with contemporary nightlife; the Perth Library, a vision of vertical lines, shaped like a morel; St George’s Cathedral, dripping with colonial gothic; and those symphonies in brown textured render, government offices.

For Tempestt, a good building is not just a historical container, but an imaginative arena. She daydreams about the sooty-faced workers, pinafore clad children, and blushing maids who may have dwelt therein, with a kind of Dickensian sentimentality. While Tempestt admits that these postcard scenes are “more imagined than factual,” she believes that the architecture that anchors them may “ignite a new found interest in historical fact finding,” inspired by an ornate stained-glass window, or a stuccoed chimney.

A film about Tempestt’s studio process is also screened in Chronicle, and the artist will extend this “behind-the-scenes” theme with a live mural painting in the hip, dilapidated Grand Lane on opening night. According to the artist, her own collection of historical artefacts, will “push the traditional art show boundary and create an inclusive museological experience.”

Despite their histories, cities change, swell upward and become condensed; walls are torn down, and what is newly erected is as divisive as ever. In this sense,Chronicle is less a traditional exhibition than one artist’s personal, quixotic, somewhat-historical time capsule.

Sioux Tempestt: Chronicle
The Museum of Perth
8 July – 5 August

Preview Words by Sheridan Hart